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Thu, 12.12.1929

Vincent Smith, Artist, and Teacher born

Vincent Smith (Girl with Flower, 1972)

*Vincent Smith was born on this date in 1929. He was a Black artist, painter, printmaker, and teacher. He was known for his depictions of black life.

Vincent DaCosta Smith was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn to Beresford Leopold Smith and Louise Etheline Todd. Both were immigrants from Barbados. He was raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and Smith drew what he saw around him. He attended an integrated school where he studied piano and the alto saxophone. He worked a range of jobs before he became a full-time artist. At 16, he worked for the Lackawanna Railroad, repairing tracks.

At 17, Smith enlisted in the army and traveled with his brigade for a year. It wasn't until after his time in the army that Smith began to paint and printmaking. At 22, Smith worked in a post office, where he became friends with fellow artist Tom Boutis. Boutis took Smith to a Paul Cézanne show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1951. After seeing the Cézanne show, Smith resigned from his post office position and began reading about art extensively. He studied at the Art Students League of New York with Reginald Marsh. Later, he began to sit in on classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, where the instructors would let him join in on the lessons and the criticisms.

After attending classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and the Art Students League of New York, he was accepted and received a scholarship to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, where he studied from 1953 to 1956. Beginning in 1954, he took official classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and studied painting, etching, and woodblock printmaking. Career Smith was a figurative painter who used abstractions and materiality to make something new. Smith's work depicts the rhythms and intricacies of black life through his prints and paintings. Many of his paintings and prints rely heavily on patterns.

According to Ronald Smothers, Vincent D. Smith's work "stood as an expressionistic bridge between the stark figures of Jacob Lawrence and the Cubist and Abstract strains represented by Black artists like Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis." Smith has described his work as "a marriage between Africa and the West." Over his life, he worked in both painting and printmaking. In 1959, Smith won the John Hay Whitney Fellowship, allowing him to travel to the Caribbean for a year. During this year, he was deeply inspired by the customs and lifestyle of the native people.

Throughout his life, Smith attended various art schools, but it was not until turning 50 that he returned to college to earn an official degree. From 1967 until 1976, he taught at the Whitney Museum’s Art Resource Center. Later in 1985, he taught printmaking at the Center for Art and Culture of Bedford Stuyvesant.

Vincent Smith died in Manhattan on December 27, 2003, from lymphoma and related complications; he was aged 74. His work is included in many public museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Newark Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Rhode Island School of Design Museum, among others.

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